On April 11, 2018, the New York City Council passed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act (the “Act”), a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace and strengthening New York City’s anti-sexual harassment laws. This is the first major legislative initiative undertaken by new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and he explained, “All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace, and this package of legislation sends a strong message to public and private employers that there is no place for sexual harassment in our City.” The bill is subject to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approval and he is expected to sign this legislation into law in short order.
There are 11 separate bills included in the Act: three amend the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), three apply to private employers, and the rest apply to City agencies.
The three amendments to the NYCHRL expand the protections against sexual and gender-based discrimination in the workplace and add sexual harassment as a new, prohibited type of discrimination:
- Introduction 657-A expands provisions of the NYCHRL related to gender-based discrimination. All employers, regardless of the number of employees, will be prohibited from discriminating on the basis of gender. Previously, employers with fewer than four employees were not bound by this provision of the NYCHRL.
- Introduction 660-A expands the policy statement of the NYCHRL, so it expressly includes sexual harassment as a form of discrimination that the NYC Commission on Human Rights (“CCHR”) has the power to eliminate and prevent.
- Introduction 663-A extends the statute of limitations for filing a complaint with the CCHR for “harassment claims based on unwelcome conduct that intimidates, interferes with, oppresses, threatens, humiliates or degrades a person based on such person’s gender” from one year to three years from the date the harassment occurred.
All of these provisions will be effective immediately.
Private Sector Employers
The Act requires all employers in New York City, regardless of size, to display an easy-to-understand anti-sexual harassment rights and responsibility poster, designed by the CCHR (Introduction 630-A). In addition, employers will need to distribute an information sheet on sexual harassment to be developed by the CCHR, covering the same information as the posting. This provision will be effective 120 days after it becomes law. As of this blog post, the CCHR has not published such a poster or revised the existing brochure on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. However, the legislation does not contain any reference to civil penalties for violations of the posting and notice requirements.
The Act also requires all private sector employers in the City with 15 or more employees to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment interactive training for all employees starting April 1, 2019 (Introduction 632-A). Employers must maintain records of compliance with the law, including signed (or electronically signed) employee acknowledgements. Employers may use computer or online training programs to satisfy the requirements of this provision. The training will need to include:
- An explanation of sexual harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination under City law, as well as a disclaimer that sexual harassment is also a form of unlawful discrimination under state and federal law;
- Descriptions and practical examples of sexual harassment;
- Any internal complaint processes available to employees to address sexual harassment claims;
- Information on the complaint process available through the CCHR, State Division of Human Rights, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”);
- The prohibition of retaliation; and
- The importance of bystander intervention.
Supervisors and managers need additional training on the specific responsibilities that supervisory and managerial employees have when it comes to preventing sexual harassment and retaliation, and measures they may take to appropriately address sexual harassment complaints. All new hires must be trained within 90 days of hire.
Lastly, the legislation adds two new compliance clarifications for employees and employers:
- An employee who has received sexual harassment training at one employer within the required training cycle need not receive additional sexual harassment training at another employer until the next cycle.
- An employer who is subject to training requirements in multiple jurisdictions may provide proof of compliance with the New York City law, as long as the employer’s sexual harassment training is provided annually and contains the mandated training areas discussed under the law.
The Act also impacts the many employers who serve as contractors or subcontractors for the City. Effective 60 days after the Act is signed into law, all contractors and subcontractors that apply for City contracts must include their employment practices, policies and procedures as they relate to preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the employment report required of proposed contractors and subcontractors (Introduction 693).
NYC agencies are subject to fairly significant changes under the Act.
As with private employers, City agencies and offices of the borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate, will also be required to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment training (Introduction 612-A), but their employees need not complete the training within 90 days of hire. This provision becomes effective 120 days after being enacted.
The Act also requires City agencies, as well as offices of the borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate to undertake self-review and provide certain information as summarized below:
- Conduct an ongoing assessment of risk factors (as identified by the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace) associated with sexual harassment in such agency, becoming effective immediately upon enactment of the Act and continuing through January 31, 2022 (Introduction 613-A);
- Conduct climate surveys to assess the general awareness and knowledge of the City’s equal employment opportunity policy, including sexual harassment policies and prevention at City agencies, with the report and results of the first survey due on or before February 28, 2019 (Introduction 664-A); and
- Publish an annual report on incidents of workplace sexual harassment within City agencies to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which would be effective 180 days after enactment of the Act (Introduction 653-A).
The Act requires the CCHR to conspicuously post on its website resources about sexual harassment, including an explanation that sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under local law, which becomes effective 90 days after the Act becomes law (Introduction 614-A).
By expanding the reach of the NYCHRL and requiring that employers conduct anti-sexual harassment training, the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act looks to effect significant change. Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign the Act shortly, which will require employers with 15 or more employees to conduct the first training as soon as one year from now, and may require employers wishing to contract with the City to provide as part of the contracting process their anti-harassment employment practices, policies and procedures as soon as 60 days from the date the Mayor signs the Act into law.